As tensions rise between the United States and North Korea, some Washington state residents are concerned of what’s to come.
President Trump’s recent dramatic threat of annihilation raised fresh fears of a confrontation with North Korea, which successfully tested an intercontinental ballistic missile last month for the first time, and which has vowed to defend itself with nuclear weapons if necessary.
Can a missile hit the West Coast?
Analysts estimated that the North’s first intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) launched earlier this year could have reached Alaska, and a second missile fired last month appeared to have significantly extended their range.
An expert told KIRO 7 that Seattle could be a potential target. KIRO 7 sat down with Doctor Richard Ellings of the National Bureau of Asian Research in April. He thinks North Korea could have Seattle in its sights.
“We have ICOR down at JBLM whose number one purpose is to reinforce the Korean Peninsula in case war breaks out,” he said.
According to some calculations, everything west of Chicago is in range.
David Wright, a physicist and co-director of the global security program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said that if reports of the missile’s maximum altitude and flight time are correct, it would have a theoretical range of at least 10,400 kilometers (about 6,500 miles). That means it could have reached Los Angeles, Denver and Chicago, depending on variables such as the size and weight of the warhead that would be carried atop such a missile in an actual attack.
Should residents worry?
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters Wednesday he is not worried about “any imminent threat” of North Korea attacking Guam despite barbs exchanged between the North Korea and the U.S.
“Americans should sleep well at night,” Tillerson said, with “no concerns about this particular rhetoric of the last few days.”
Is Washington state prepared, just in case?
A Washington state law from the 1984 is blocking local effort to prepare for the worst. That law actually prevents Washington State Emergency Management from planning for a nuclear strike.
Lawmakers passed it as a symbolic end to the cold war with the Soviet Union.
In the 1950s and 60s during the Cold War, Washington state had a clear plan and places to shelter — even bunkers built inside Seattle bridges — in case of nuclear disaster.
But currently, with North Korea’s escalating threats with nukes, few people know state law prevents planning for nuclear disaster.
State Senator Mark Miloscia has been trying to repeal that old law.
“I think there is right now, a common sense support for repealing this. We’ve just got to educate people that let’s do that soon,” said Miloscia.
Are there any shelters?
In March 1972, Seattle and King County leaders unveiled a community survival plan “in case of a nuclear attack upon the United States.”
It listed 686 addresses of public fallout shelters that could be used in case of a nuclear attack. A map of all those locations are below.
“Save this Survival Plan … It could save your life,” the plan read.
The plan, which was distributed as a supplement in five local newspapers, was created in coordination with 28 King County cities for the potential of a nuclear attack without warning. Residents were encouraged to bring their own food and supplies.
Many of the buildings have changed in the 45 years since the plan was developed, and many are private buildings. The plan was also meant to prepare residents for a major earthquake and other natural disasters.
Seattle-area people with ties to Guam watch, worry
With North Korea making threats to Guam, it is a tense time for people with deep connections to the U.S. territory.
Sheryl Day is a karate teacher in Seattle who recently completed her doctorate on the militarization of Guam, where there are Navy and Air Force bases.
Day says her mother, who lives on Guam and was a child during World War II, is particularly worried.
“She’s really concerned that in any moment, at any hour, in any minute of the day, that an attack could happen,” Day said.
That anxiety is shared by Peter Guerrero, who owns Jungle Island Gift Shop in Parkland, which specializes in merchandise from Guam
He’s concerned about claims that North Korea’s Kim Jong Un plans to fire four missiles into the ocean less than 25 miles from Guam.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen. He can just go berserk or crazy,” Guerrero said. “But then again, I have faith. I have faith in God and I have faith in our military.”
Guerrero is urging his family back home to have a disaster plan.
“I just want to make sure if anything ever happens they know what to do,” he said.
With rhetoric strong on both sides, Day said her hope is for “negotiation and discussion and some calm and cool-headed talking because this isn’t a game.”
What exactly is the aggression by North Korean leaders?
On August 10, North Korea announced a detailed plan to launch a volley of ballistic missiles toward the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam, a major military hub and home to U.S. bombers, and dismissed statements by President Donald Trump.
Trump warned Kim Jong Un’s government to “get their act together” or face extraordinary trouble, and suggested his earlier threat to unleash “fire and fury” on North Korea was too mild.
The North Korean announcement, made in the name of a general who heads their rocket command, warned the North is preparing a plan to fire four of its Hwasong-12 missiles over Japan and into waters around the tiny island, which hosts 7,000 U.S. military personnel on two main bases and has a population of 160,000.
It said the plan could be finalized within a week or so and would then go to leader Kim Jong Un for approval. It would be up to Kim whether the move is actually carried out. It said the missiles would hit waters 30 to 40 kilometers (19 to 25 miles) away from the island.
It is unclear whether North Korea would risk firing missiles so close to U.S. territory, which could provoke countermeasures and further escalation.
Is there a chance of war?
Guam lies about 2,100 miles (3,400 kilometers) from the Korean Peninsula, and it’s extremely unlikely Kim’s government would risk annihilation with a pre-emptive attack on U.S. citizens. It’s also unclear how reliable North Korea’s missiles would be against such a distant target, given that its military has struggled to target effectively in the past.
Current and former U.S. officials said if war did come, the U.S. and its allies would likely hit hard and fast, using air strikes, drone operations and cyberattacks aimed at military bases, air bases, missile sites, artillery, communications, command and control headquarters and intelligence gathering and surveillance capabilities.
Military analysts said it was unusual for Pyongyang to give such a precise target for a military action. Still, there were no signs that North Korea was seriously mobilizing its population for war, such as by pulling workers from factories or putting the army on formal alert.
“There’s a lot of theater to this whole thing,” said Bob Carlin, former Northeast Asia chief for the State Department’s intelligence arm.
Similarly, the U.S. military gave no indications it perceived a seriously escalating threat from Pyongyang, such as moving to evacuate American personnel or their families from Guam, where there are 7,000 U.S. troops, or South Korea, where there are 28,000.
And U.S. officials insisted no significant number of troops, ships, aircraft or other assets were being directed to the region, beyond any that had been previously scheduled. The officials weren’t authorized to discuss military planning publicly and requested anonymity.
Why does North Korea hate the U.S.?
A lot of North Korea’s hate for the U.S. comes from memories of the Korean War’s destruction in the 1950s.
During the war, which lasted from 1950 to 1953, the U.S. bombed towns and cities across the North. The war killed millions of people, according to historians.
North Korea’s propaganda machine has kept the memory of war alive.
“North Koreans live in a war mentality, and this anti-American propaganda is war-time propaganda,” Tatiana Gabroussenko, an expert in North Korean propaganda who teaches at Korea University in Seoul, told The Washington Post.
Lederman reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Lolita C. Baldor in Washington and Eric Talmadge in Seoul, South Korea, contributed to this report.